Our Seamless Guide to Dealing with Distracting Coworkers

Distracting coworkers are an office monster. They make life miserable and lower office productivity. At their most pernicious, they increase turnover and encourage clients to seek competitors.

distracting coworkers

Making matters worse, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every distracting coworker. The slacker, the motormouth, the complainer, the comedian, the megaphone, the killjoy—each requires a slightly different approach that depends on your office culture and their level of intrusiveness.

However, you can take steps to reduce their impact on your work life. Here’s our seamless guide to dealing with distracting coworkers.

Look within

That subhead sounds way more New Agey than we intend. We simply mean that before you act, take some time to analyze yourself and why you find your coworker’s habits bothersome.

Yes, his voice carries, and yes, his upward inflection grates, but that’s how he speaks. Is it his fault you are distracted or your own?

Distractions like these aren’t harmful. Understanding a distraction is inconsequential makes it easier to ignore, allowing you to focus on your coworker’s positive traits. You may also find your irritation stems from outsides sources, like being overwhelmed, a lack of work-life balance, or personal problems. Analyzing feelings like these is the first step to managing them.

Construct visual cues

A coworker stopping by your desk every 30 minutes is a distraction, and you’ll need to deal with it. One way is to create visual cues in your environment to dissuade unwelcome guests.

If you are in an office, you can simply shut the door. An open-office environment poses an extra challenge. Try setting up your desk to prevent line of sight. Some strategically placed books, potted plants, or monitors can help here. We also recommend a big set of noise-canceling headphones (not the tiny earbuds). These tell would-be chatters you currently occupy your work-mind palace.

When the open office becomes too much, relocate to a conference room or coffee shop.

Electronic interference

In the modern era, coworkers don’t need face time to distract. They manage it electronically by flooding inboxes with a deluge of memes and casual chitchat.

To avoid electronic interferences, employ good email hygiene. Don’t let emails snatch your attention as soon as they come in. Set aside a specific time each day to handle them; same goes for instant messages.

During that time, it’s your call whether you respond to trivial messages. If you don’t, the distractor may take a hint and stop. But taking the time to jot quick, short responses can maintain positive relationships with your office mates, while still limiting time spend on distractions.

The conversation killer

Even with visual cues in place, some passive-aggressive coworkers will be hellbent on interrupting your work or accosting you in the break room to share their latest client kerfuffle. Your best bet is to employ a conversation-killing sentence quickly.

You can go with the classic, “Sorry, I’m busy and can’t talk right now.” Another option is to ask the person to help you follow up on a task. Most distracting behavior is a bid for self-distraction. If conversations with you loop back to work, distractors will be less likely seek them.

Talk it out

Did the above fail? You may need to address the problem directly, especially if the coworker’s behavior becomes an office-wide problem. At this point it’s best to talk with your supervisor or an HR rep, even if just to express your concerns. They have the resources and authority to effectively handle the situation.

If you feel you must talk with the coworker, there are some ground rules. Don’t gang up on her or put her on the offensive. Don’t use this as an opportunity for comeuppance. Instead, talk calmly and help her understand you’re on her side. Remember, the goal is to end the distracting behavior, not your coworker’s trust in you.

Dealing with distracting coworkers is never easy. Emotions can be high, there’s a lot at stake, and confronting the issue can put everyone on the offensive. But by following this guide, you can limit interferences, keep the peace, and hopefully improve your office relationships.

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